Tis the season for exchanging gifts, joyful Christmas caroling, and stockings hung by the chimney with care. But have you ever stopped to take a moment to reflect on the traditions Americans partake in at Christmas time? In all actuality, the things we view as completely normal on Christmas, would be extremely weird to do any other time of the year. What would your neighbors say if you showed up one day in April, belting the latest Adele tune at their front door? So where did the most popular Christmas traditions come from? Fear not my fellow jolly holiday-lovers, I have done the research to find the answers for you (no chimney climbing was required.)
Q: Why Do We Give Gifts To Our Loved Ones?
A: In my tinsel-tangled, Internet scavenging, I found a website called WhyChristmas.com. Apparently, I'm not the only one who questions everything around me on December 25, either. According to WhyChristmas.com the reason behind gift giving is connected to the religious ties the holiday holds. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. According to scripture, when Jesus was born, three wise men brought gifts. Giving gifts to your closest comrades was originally to symbolize not only the gifts given by the wise men, but also the gift of baby Jesus given the world by God...So basically you get gifts each year thanks to the Christian religion. Think about that when you open up your new Xbox this year and then whine when your parents want to go to Christmas mass, hmm?
Q: Why Do We Hang-Up Stockings?
A: Like all things we love in childhood (See: any fairytale ever), the tradition of hanging up stockings have a dark beginning. There is an old story about a man whose wife died and was left alone to raise his three daughters. He later goes broke from being a terrible businessman and therefore has no money to put towards his daughters dowries. In this time, a women could not be married without a dowry to offer.
Typically this would mean the girls who have to become prostitutes to get by without a husband (fight the patriarchy.) But, the good monk Sinter Klaus, also known as St. Nicholas, heard of the family's troubles and began leaving bags of gold for the girls near the chimney, one of which fell into a stocking hung hear the chimney to dry. The father caught St. Nicholas leaving the gifts and of course could not keep his mouth shut and told everyone about it. Thus, the tradition of hanging a stocking for St. Nicholas was born.
Q: Why Do We Put Up a Tree in Our Homes?
A: History.com put a great deal of work into explaining this tradition. Their piece on Christmas trees is actually very interesting, I suggest going and watching/reading it by clicking the previous link. But the simplest explanation stems back to when people viewed the sun as a god. When the winter came, the people thought it was because the god was weak. Plants like Evergreens were reminders of strength and the green growth that would soon come with spring. Germans in the 16th century were the first ones to drag a tree into their homes. Martin Luther (You know, the guy who created the Protestant revolution?) was said to be the first person to decorate a tree with lights because he was allegedly mesmerized by the night sky during a sermon.
Q: Why Do We Go Caroling?
A: WhyChristmas.com also spends a great deal of time explaining this tradition. Carols apparently used to be sung year-round but only Christmas carols have really survived. Carols stem back to the popularity of Paganism. Carols were sung while celebrating with dance around stones. Early Christians took the celebration of winter solstice from the Pagans and turned it into Christmas (because abused privilege has been a concept for thousands of years, you know.) Later on in England, choirs and orchestras were popping up and they wanted festive music to play for their towns so the modern-day Christmas carol was born.
Q: Why Do We Kiss Under Mistletoe?
A: Mistletoe is an herb that has been important to people for many years. History.com says that the herb was once treasured for its healing abilities. Ancient Greeks insisted on mistletoe as a cure for everything as much as your grandma insists on smothering you in vapor rub, regardless of what's wrong with you. In Celtic history, mistletoe was seen as a symbol of vivacity because it can bloom, even if it's freezing outside. Mistletoe was administered during this time to improve fertility.
No one can really confirm how mistletoe went from medicinal herb to holiday decoration, but kissing under it started with servants in the middle Ages. It was said that men could steal a kiss from any women standing under mistletoe and refusing so was seen as bad luck.
Q: Why December 25th?
A: No one knows the actual birth of Jesus, it's not recorded in the Bible or anything. So why do we celebrate his birth on December 25? One possibility is that, as stated above, it is around the same time as the Pagan winter solstice celebration, which Christians took on as Christmas. The first recorded Christmas was on December 25, 336 under the first Christian Roman Emperor. After that, Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the official date of Christmas. So basically the date is because an old white dude told us what to do, cool.
So there you go you merry celebrators, now you know the reason behind some of the most popular Christmas traditions. Now you have some unwarranted information to combat your annoy Uncle Larry's terrible puns with while you sip on your eggnog and rock an ugly sweater. You're Welcome.